Author: Stephen Davies
Rating: 4 Stars
Dates read: 27 Sep 19 – 04 Oct 19
Publication date: 03 Oct 2019
Publisher: Andersen Press
Genre(s): Contemporary, YA, Sport
Leah Baxter is a genius. She’s a few wins away from becoming a junior chess grandmaster, and her life is on course to achieve everything her mom and coach want for her.
But Leah is at stalemate – grieving for her father, and feeling suffocated. She decides to make the ultimate sacrifice and quit chess. But chess doesn’t want to quit her. Soon Leah discovers her new gambit: chessboxing, a dangerous hybrid sport which will test her body and mind to their limits. Can the pawn become the queen?
*I received a copy of this book courtesy of Dark Room Tours and Andersen as part of their Chessboxer Bookstagram/Blog Tour*
I really like the idea of chess boxing. I have loosely read about it as a sport for a few years after discovering it through Vitali Klitschko, so when I saw this YA Contemporary I was quite excited. Darkroom Tours gave me the opportunity to read and review this as part of their current Bookstagram/Blog tour and I decided that it was time to delve back into the world of YA contemporary and have to say I was glad I did. I wasn’t sure what to expect as its not a genre I usually read much of and was pleasantly surprised by the emotional depths the book reaches.
I opened the book and was surprised to find it written in blog format. It didn’t bother me at all, I actually really liked it and thought it was a great use of unique storytelling, but it did take me by surprise. The story is told from Leah Baxter’s point of view as she tells her story through her blog. The emotional descriptions, and relatable commentary made this a great tool when telling the story, and the addition of witty comments and other opinions throughout the posts told the read a lot about Leah, her relationship with people and things in her life, and overall I felt like the style was used well and not just a gimmick. That said, the occasional time jumps in the story were jarring and occasionally out of place with the rest of the book and was something I could have done without, or feel could have been done better.
Leah herself was, for me, quite an unpleasant character. She exuded a lot of the worst traits of a teenager, overconfidence, a lack of respect, and arrogance, that created a mix that found her unlikeable. Unfortunately I didn’t find her dislikable enough either, she just was, and that left a problem that I was struggling to connect with her as a character for a vast portion of the book. I did, however, love that she was fiercely talented and incredibly clever and that this was something she was proud of and wore like a badge of honour. Her family support and nurtured this and kept her striving towards success, not shying away from her genius status, and this was a pleasant departure from many aspects of female representation in literature. She didn’t often treat the characters around her with much respect, but I like that she did grow in herself to realise how important her Mother, her friends, and ultimately her fanbase were to her.
The book deals succinctly and emotionally with grief and complex relationships and I am unsure if I have ever read something that addressed these things so compassionately and honestly. Leah and her mother are grieving for her father throughout the book, and the use f the blog posts to tell the story gives us an insight to Leah’s true thoughts and feelings as we progress. We see her failing and losing a love for a game she has grown up with and associates her Father with, we see her making friends with the wrong crowd and using them as a crutch, we see her attempting to deal with a mother who is herself struggling, and we see her channel her love for sport and mindgames and her emotions into chess boxing. We also are witnesses to her counselling sessions. I think this was brilliantly done and really showed that this attitude, of getting help and working through your difficulties pays off, no matter your mindset going in and think this was a really strong message to deliver in a YA book.
Unfortunately, my lack of connection with Leah was one of the reasons I couldn’t award this book 5 stars. The other was chess. I can loosely play chess. I know the rules and can probably play enough, but I am definitely at the absolutely beginner stage. I can’t visualise moves, or really the board itself, so I found the passages describing chess moves and games was something I was reading just to progress to the next part of the book. I could have done with a paragraph saying she won, it was close, whatever, and been as happy to move onto the next bit. I am sure there will be people who loved this aspect, but I didn’t feel like it added anything for me, and was happy when it was interspersed with boxing.
Overall, this is a rapid tale of finding your feet, following your dreams, growing up, and dealing with grief. Leah forges relationships in unexpected places, heals emotion rifts, and even though she was never a likeable character for me, her tale is one of overcoming diversity, and I enjoyed reading and discovering with her, and through her.